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One of the principal monasteries of the Cluniac Order, the abbey of Beaulieu was situated on the banks of the Dordogne river. Strategically positioned on the Compostela road, it was a key point of passage between the two regions of the Limousin and the Quercy.

beaulieu-71The southern porch features a tympanum relief sculpture whose style emanates from the same Languedocian tradition as the great sculptures at Moissac and Cahors.

Its dating is still disputed, however it can be fairly ascribed to the first half of the twelfth century.

The subject is the Second Coming of Matthew’s Gospel and the iconography is firmly influenced by the Late Antique Roman triumphal arches. These monuments were celebrations of imperial military victories.

beaulieu-184They depicted the victorious leader surrounded by his retinue of dignitaries being offered the trophies of the vanquished enemy who lay prostrate at his feet.

At Beaulieu, an enthroned Christ returns at the End of Time in the manner of an imperial victor. Surrounded by his Apostles, his trophies are borne aloft by an assembly of angels.

One bears the Instruments of The Passion symbolised by the nails of the Crucifixion.

Another bears the Crown of Heaven. Two more angels carry the bejewelled Cross, Matthews’ sign of the Son of Man.

Like the Roman emperor, Christ stands over the vanquished enemy, Death, represented on the lintel by the devouring beasts.

beaulieu-167A manuscript of the first decade of the twelfth century makes explicit the connection between the iconography of Imperial Rome and the Apocalyptic theophany.

“In what form shall Christ appear on the Day of Judgment?”, asked Honorius of Autun, rhetorically answering, ”In the manner of an emperor who enters a city, his crown and other insignia carried before him so that his advent might be recognised, the angels carrying his crown will lead the way”.

beaulieu-108“On his arrival they will resuscitate the Dead by their voices and their trumpets”. The Beaulieu theophany is an image of the Redeemer.

In the exegetical works of Cluny’s tenth century abbot, Odon, the four arms of the Cross symbolised the diffusion of Redemption to the four corners of the Earth. Similarly, the outstretched arms of the Beaulieu Christ reach out to encompass the whole world.

Immediately beneath the register of Christ and his Apostles are smaller figures who are pointing towards the theophanic spectacle to which they are witness.

beaulieu-145The seven figures are Jews, holding up their tunics to expose their circumcision and pagans wearing tricorn hats.

They represent those peoples of the earth who will, at the last day, be converted and redeemed along with the rest of humanity.

This notion derives from Gregory the Great’s treatment on the Book of Job, the Moralia, a work widely circulated in Cluniac libraries. Two copies of abbot Odon’s commentary were kept at the great abbey of Saint Martial of Limoges.

In this work, Gregory argued that the Jews would be the last to convert and that their initial opposition had been part of the divine plan, having obliged the Gospel to be spread abroad.

beaulieu-156Above the Jews and Pagans is the seated figure of Paul, notable for his own late conversion after initially persecuting the early Christians.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans specifically had addressed the question of the redemption of the Jews.

The very presence of the unconverted on the tympanum of Beaulieu signifies that the Apocalyptic moment has arrived.

The Word has now come to the furthest reaches of the world and the Mission of the Apostles has been fulfilled.

Sources and Biblio: Art et réforme clunisienne : le porche sculpté de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, Barbara Franzé. Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales. Auxerre 18.2. 2014

Yves Christe. Les grands portails romans. Études sur l’iconologie des théophanies romanes, Genève, Librairie Droz, 1969

Programmes Eschatologiques: Fonction et Réception Historiques des Portails du XIIe: Moissac – Beaulieu – Saint Denis, P Klein Cahiers de Civilisation Medieval 33 317-49

Limousin Roman J. Maury, M-M Gauthier, J. Porcher, La Nuit des Temps. Ed. Zodiaque 1960

A transcendental mysticism entered Latin Western Christendom from the East in the ninth century.Moissac-S-Tymp-25

At the centre was the Divine One, immobile and eternal, surrounded by a Celestial Hierarchy and Cosmos that was in a state of continuous movement.

That motion was one of ebb and flow, a progression towards the still centre and a corresponding regression away from it. The Divine was in a constant process of self-revelation.

An emanation of Its essence was in an unfolding dialectic with the rest of the Universe, which was in a corresponding process of contemplation of that essence.

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Each being, containing elements of the Divine and the non-Divine, processed through an alternating recognition of their Divinity followed by its negation, ascending through the hierarchy until there was nothing left to negate and union was attained in the Godhead.

Taking the theophanic vision from chapter four to six of the Book of Revelation as a description of the highest level of the celestial hierarchy, the tympanum sculpture of the Cluniac abbey of Saint Pierre at Moissac was essentially a depiction of the Christian Neoplatonic metaphysical system.

This was derived largely from the writings of a Syrian monk of the sixth century who wrote pseudonomously under the name of Dionysius.

Moissac-S-Tymp-12-copyThe contorted figures whose gazes are all directed at the central Divine figure, were intended to represent that process of movement back and forth between the Divine and the non-Divine.

According to the system presented by Pseudo-Dionysius there were three orders of angels each consisting of three ranks. The highest order was made up of the Cherubim, the Seraphim and the Thrones.

The Tetramorph of the Moissac tympanum which surround the central figure consist of the Living Creatures of Ezekiel’s Old Testament vision who reappear at the Apocalypse. These were the Cherubim who, according to Ezekiel were angels each with the head, respectively, of a man, a calf, an eagle and a lion. On each side there is a six winged Seraphim and below are the Thrones, represented by the Twenty-Four Elders.

Moissac-SeraphimAll are joined in contemplation and adoration of the Godhead, united in one continuous song of prayer.

The celestial hierarchy was further extended by three terrestrial orders which formed the basis and rationale for the medieval monastic system. This tripartite division of society was made up of those who labour, those who fight and those who pray.

The monastery of Moissac was the most important establishment in the Cluniac federation, after the mother abbey itself. Through the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius and his successors, which were held at the library at Cluny, had emerged the idea that humanity partook in that celestial hierarchy and formed a tenth order of angels. Moissac-S-Tymp-18-copy

It was in the light of this transcendentalism that Cluny had refined the Rule of Saint Benedict into a constant round of liturgy.

By prayer and mystical contemplation, monks could access the same theophanic vision, which was the preserve of the angelic orders.

For the remaining two orders, those who fought might find redemption through martyrdom and those who laboured, through pilgrimage and the veneration of relics.

Moissac, on the banks of the broad river Tarn, was an important station on the pilgrim road to Compostela.

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The Pilgrims Guide describes a choir of one hundred monks of the Cluniac priory of Saint Jean d’Angély, another station on the road to Compostela, who “worshipped day and night” the relic which they guarded: the head of Saint John the Baptist.

It was a description intended to echo that of the Living Creatures who, in the Book of Revelation, “rest not day and night, saying Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty”.

The Elders of the Apocalypse beckoned pilgrims from the tympanum above the entrance to the abbey church at Moissac with the vessels they held and which contained, according to the Book of Revelation, the accumulated essence of the prayers of the saints.

Biblio: Dale Coulter, Pseudo-Dionysius in the Twelfth Century Latin West, The ORB, 1997. Yves Christe. Les grands portails romans. Études sur l’iconologie des théophanies romanes, Genève, Librairie Droz, 1969. Paul Rorem, Eriugena’s Commentary on the Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy, ‪Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies‬, ‪1 Jan 2005‬

Fronsac-GV-WPThe Benedictine priory church at La Lande-de-Fronsac lies fifteen miles north east of Bordeaux on the northern banks of the Dordogne river.

Its portal relief sculpture is singular in being the only monumental representation of the first theophanic vision from the Book of Revelation in Romanesque sculpture.

A partially legible inscription surrounding the semi-circular relief reads, “Johes VII eccliis que sunt … Ter VII candelabra aurea” referencing the text which is the source of the image.

Fronsac-Tymp-2On the lintel below we can read another inscription, “Principiu sine principio sine fine” that is, beginning without beginning without end, an amplification of the Alpha and Omega of the text.

The striking image at Fronsac shows the hieratic image of the Son of Man in a full length tunic standing with arms outstretched. From the left side of the head emerges a sword.

Surrounding this dramatic figure is a circle containing seven daisy-like flowers, beneath which cowers Saint John the Divine.

Fronsac-John-WPRepresented here is John’s vision on the island of Patmos addressed to the seven churches of Asia which are depicted on the relief next to his cowering figure.

According to the text, John is hearing a voice behind him which describes itself as the Alpha and Omega standing amid seven candlesticks. To the right of the figure of Christ amid a complex entwined vegetal motif one can make out the representation of the candelabra.

The crude execution of the stone carving only serves to enhance the elemental severity and latent violence of the image.

Fronsac-Christ-1-WPThis is in keeping with the tone of the text which describes the Son of Man as having, “eyes as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.”

This was an image of the deity, the sacrificial Lamb itself, as the agent of the sacrificial act.

The medieval exegesis to be found in the commentaries on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liebana, Caesarius of Arles and Walafrid Strabo explained this passage from Revelation as a representation of Christ’s sacerdotal role as the Priest Messiah.

Fronsac-Christ-Sword-WPThe hieratic representation of the Son of Man with the sword emanating from the mouth indicated Christ’s priestly sacrificial function.

The seven stars, the seven candelabra and the seven churches were all symbolising the Church in its various forms, historical, spiritual, cosmic and Christ’s omnipresent permeation of it. This notion is represented on the Fronsac tympanum by the motif of the vine which extends into every space of the relief.

For Caesarius, Asia represented humanity and “As the Son of Man is in the midst of the candelabra, so is Christ in the midst of the Church”.

For Strabo, the attributes of the Son of Man in the vision, the tunic, the gold belt and the sword were attributes of priestly power and the son of Man was the underlying principle of the Father and the Holy Ghost.

The lintel inscription implied even more than the Alpha and Omega, that the Son of Man preexisted the beginning and continued after the End.

Biblio and Sources: Guyenne Romane, Pierre Dubourg-Noves, Zodiaque. “Les sept églises et Le fils de l’homme au tympan du portail sud au prieuré benedictin de la Lande-de-Fronsac”  Mireille Mentré , Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa 8 1977 89-103

 

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-1Medieval pilgrimage and the monastic world went hand in hand. According to the tripartite feudal division of society only the clerics and monks could expect to enter Paradise on the Day of Judgment.

For the two other orders, those who fought and those who laboured, pilgrimage and Crusade held the potential to avoid the Leviathan’s Jaws and the portal to Hell.

The monasteries guarded the precious relics that pilgrims were ordained to venerate and they were also way stations providing alms and hospitality to pilgrims.

Ste-Quitterie-Monks-2The abbeys and priories which lined the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela thrived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Towards the end of the eleventh century a new monastic order began to assume an important role in the Compostelan pilgrimage. These were the Canons Regular of the Rule of Saint Augustine, ordained clerics who abided by the same strictures and practices as the Benedictine monks.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-3As the pilgrimage grew in importance during the course of the century, the Augustinians began to perform an important function in establishing infrastructure and providing relief for the travellers.

The abbot of Saint Pons de Thomières, Frotarius, a close ally of Pope Gregory VII was a keen proponent of the canonical life for priests which the Augustinian order embodied

Frotarius established the hospice at Santa Cristina where pilgrims to Compostela were cared for by canons on the Somport Pass over the Pyrenees.

San-Pedro-de-las-Dueñas-4Assigned as Papal Legate to Aragon and Navarre, Frotarius arranged for a certain Pierre d’Andouque to become bishop, first of the Aragonese town of Roda and then in 1082 archbishop of Pamplona.

Previously a novice of Conques and subsequently monk of Frotarius’ abbey at Thomières, Pierre d’Andouque, in his role as bishop of Pamplona became one of the most influential figures in Spanish affairs.

Through the influence of Pierre d’Andouque, the order of Canons Regular began to assume an increasingly active role in the pilgrimage to Compostela. They were installed at Saint Sernin at Toulouse and then in a number of key locations associated with the relics of the Carolingian past on the road to Compostela that passed through Pamplona.

Roncevaux-10-WPA concerted attempt was made to integrate the legends of Charlemagne, both into the Compostelan pilgrimage and the Crusader ethos of the Spanish Reconquista. The driving force behind this appears to have been Pierre d’Andouque and his entourage at Pamplona. The instrument for effecting this strategy was the Augustinian Order

At some point between 1101 and 1104, Pierre d’Andouque acquired an almshouse and a villa at Roncevaux, the location of the great battle between the Franks and Saracens culminating in the martyrdom of the hero Roland.

There he established an Augustinian priory and hospice which he donated to Conques.

This was a vital location, both mythologically and geographically, being just below the Cize Pass that led Compostelan pilgrims from France towards Pamplona.

Roncesvalles-WP-3A short distance from Roncevaux, a chapel dedicated to the Holy Saviour was renamed the Capella Carlomagni.

At Blaye on the Gironde estuary, the tomb of Roland at the abbey of Saint Romanus was served by a chapter of Augustinian canons.

The same was also true for the abbey of Saint Seurin at Bordeaux that held the celebrated Olifant, Roland’s ivory horn. The cemetery of the abbey contained the tombs of many of the fallen heroes of the battle of Roncevaux.

All of these sites were evoked in detail in the Pilgrim’s Guide as markers on the road to Saint James’ shrine. Even more, they were essential elements in the narrative of Turpin’s History that shows evident signs of being composed, in part at least by the circle around Pierre d’Andouque.

Historia-Turpini-1In the chronicle, a passage describes the Saracen leader, Aigolandus, visiting Charlemagne’s court. Aigolandus asks for an explanation of the different clerical and monastic orders he witness around the emperor.

Charlemagne himself explains that aside from the priests and bishops, there are two other orders, the monks in black who were the Benedictines and those wearing the white habit of the Augustinian canons whom he, significantly declares to be the most saintly of all.

The scene that Turpin describes is very much one that which would have been familiar at the courts and councils of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain in the early twelfth century at the time of the composition of the History. Bishops and abbots both played a vital role in affairs which were then indistinguishable: the political and the spiritual.

Sources and Biblio: Les Origines Méridionales de la Chanson de Roland, Frédéric de Gournay, Cahiers de St-Michel de Cuxa, XXXII, 2001

Une Abbaye de Pelerinage: Sainte-Foy de Conques et ses rapports avec Saint-Jacques. Georges Gaillard Compostellanum Sección des Estudios Jacobeos, 1965

Etude sur les sculptures de Sainte-Foy de Conques et de Saint-Sernin de Toulouse et leurs relations avec celles de Saint-Isidore de Léon et de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. Paul Deschamps

History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812

The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014

André de Mandach Naissance et Origines de la chanson de geste en Europe Vol. 1 La Geste de Charlemagne et de Roland Genève, Droz, 1961

Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003

Les sépultures des Français morts à Roncevaux, André Moisan, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 1981 Volume 24 pp. 129-145

Les légendes épiques : recherches sur la formation des chansons de geste. Bédier, Joseph, 1914

Barton Sholod. Charlemagne in Spain: The Cultural Legacy of Roncevalles, Geneva Droz 1966

Turpin-Illum-1-WP

Turpin’s account of Charlemagne’s conquest of Spain presents us with a seemingly arbitrary succession of victories and defeats.

After winning Pamplona, the whole of the peninsula is opened up and liberated by Charlemagne.

The emperor then travels to Compostela where he orders the construction of a new basilica.

However, with total dominion seemingly assured, a new Saracen leader, Aigolandus emerges from North Africa and proceeds to recover the lands Charlemagne had previously conquered.

In 1085, the Christian armies of Spain finally broke the seven year long siege of Toledo and took back the ancient Visigothic capital from the Saracens.

Platerias-Santiago-2

This appeared to be the decisive turning point in the centuries old reconquest of Spain, which had begun with Pelayo’s first victory at Covadonga in 722.

Buoyed by this success, Alfonso VI endowed the church of Saint James at Compostela with the funds to build the great Romanesque cathedral, which still stands there today.

However, the Moorish principalities turned for aid to North Africa and appealing to the Berber fundamentalist tribes of the Almoravids, invited them to invade the peninsula. In 1086, the Berbers landed in Spain and led by Yusuf-Ibn-Tashfin, reversed Alfonso’s victory by inflicting a crushing defeat on the Christian forces at Sagrajas.

The tide of Christian advance had been checked and a stalemate remained for a generation.

alfonsovi_of_castileThis is the most obvious and striking of the numerous parallels to be found in Turpin’s History between the account of Charlemagne’s campaign and the actual historical conflict between the Christians and Moors in eleventh century Spain.

From 1077, after a period of intense conflict with his two brothers, Alfonso VI emerged as the sole ruler of Christian Spain and was dubbed emperor. On his death in 1109, he was buried at the Cluniac monastery at Sahagún.

It seems to have been the intention of the authors of the History, a text compiled a short time after Alfonso’s death to conflate the personalities of the two emperors.

Just like the Charlemagne of Turpin’s History, Alfonso was an assiduous promoter of the pilgrimage to Compostela, contributing greatly to its infrastructure by means of numerous charters for the improvement of bridges, the establishment of hostelries, hospices and monastic endowments for the benefit of pilgrims.

Rio-PisuergaIn 1085 Alfonso had famously dreamt of the Milky Way and the narrative of Turpin’s History begins with Charlemagne’s own dream of that same celestial phenomenon, followed by a visitation from Saint James the Apostle who explains its significance. The dream was an injuction to the emperor not only to liberate the shrine at Compostela but also to establish the road leading to it.

The similarities continued. Following his victory at Toledo, Alfonso had descended to Gibraltar and symbolically dipped his lance in the sea to signify his complete dominion over the Hispanic peninsula.

Rio-CeaTurpin’s account records that Charlemagne after liberating Compostela had journeyed the short distance to the ocean at Padrón and placed his lance in the water in similarly symbolic gesture.

Finally, the conflation of the two emperors is confirmed by the long and detailed list of Charlemagne’s conquests and victories, a list almost identical to the one Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo had provided for Alfonso’s campaigns.

By associating Alfonso with the most revered of all medieval figures, those who worked on the production of the manuscript were not merely performing a simple exercise in aggrandising the reputation of a recently deceased monarch. They were placing the recent past in a mythological and legendary context.

San-Zeno-Roland-2-WPIn the same way that Biblical exegesis determined that narratives from the Old Testament were precedents and prefigurations of those, which were recounted in the New Testament, so the wars of Alfonso against the Saracens were by inference, assumed into an ongoing teleological process, which had originated in the time of Charlemagne.

This notion is encapsulated in chapter four of the History, which is devoted to a description of what was presumably the antique statue of Hercules which still stood in those times at Cadiz and held a key in one hand.

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Turpin attributes the statue to Muhammad. To the Saracens, Turpin also attributes the prophecy that the “certain key, so the Saracens themselves say, would fall from his hand in the year that a future king would be born in Gaul who would subjugate the whole land of Spain to the laws of the Christians in the end times”.

This is a clear invocation of the Apocalyptic thrust of the Reconquistá and evocation of the legend of the Last Roman Emperor who was to defeat the forces of the Antichrist before depositing his imperial crown on the Mount of Olives, an act which would herald the Apocalypse.

Saragossa had been the goal of Charlemagne’s campaign of 778 when he crossed the Pyrenees in his failed bid to take the city.

Three centuries later, Saragossa also successfully resisted the armies of Alfonso VI. The city was eventually captured in 1122 by a combined Crusader force led by one of Alfonso’s successors, Alfonso el Batallador, who also dubbed himself “imperator”.

Sources and Biblio: History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014. André de Mandach Naissance et Origines de la chanson de geste en Europe Vol. 1 La Geste de Charlemagne et de Roland Genève, Droz, 1961. Bernard Gicquel La Légende de Compostelle Le Livre de Saint Jacques, Tallandier 2003. Barton Sholod. Charlemagne in Spain: The Cultural Legacy of Roncevalles, Geneva Droz 1966

The church of Saint Etienne de Tauriac is situated a short distance from the Tours Road. It lies near the right bank of the Dordogne River midway between the major Compostelan halts of Blaye and Bordeaux.

Tauriac-GV-1-WP

The sculptural ensemble of its west facade is especially enigmatic and original.
The structure of the existing church features elements from several  campaigns suggestive of rebuilding necessitated by the violent history of the Gironde region. Some elements date from the Paleo-Christian era and could originate from a very early church existing at the site.
The remarkable west facade dates from the late eleventh century or early twelfth.

Tauriac-Rider-2-WPThe style of the facade is in the arcaded style of churches of the Saintonge region and it bears some similarity with the church at Parthenay-le-Vieux in the Poitou, further north on the Tours Road. Notably in the two blinds arcades on either side of the main doorway. Each of the arcades features a sculpted tympanum.

The left hand tympanum features an equestrian figure, such as we have seen elsewhere on the Tours Road in an identical placement, as at Airvault and Parthenay. In the case of the rider at Tauriac, he holds a lance horizontally indicating the attitude of a charge. The tip of the lance features a pennant. The poor condition of the relief maybe the reason we see no crouching figure beneath the rider, as at Parthenay, Oloron and other sites where such an image is widely taken to represent the triumph over paganism, most often identified with the Emperor Constantine.
Tauriac-Rider1-WPHowever, taken together with the pointed lance, this absence of the figure of the pagan, draws us away from the Constantinian identification. Given the proximity of Tauriac to the burial sites of the fallen heroes of Roncevaux at Blaye, Saint Seurin of Bordeaux and Belin it seems eminently plausible to suggest that the equestrian figure actually represents a scene from the battle of Roncevaux, possibly even Roland himself.
Whereas at Parthenay the horseman is paired, on it’s opposing tympanum with Samson prising apart the jaws of a lion, at Tauriac the right hand tympanum features the Lamb of God.
Tauriac-Lamb-3Presented within a circular mandorla held by a pair of doves. The attitude of Lamb of Tauriac is contorted so that although facing right its head is turned round towards the left where a crucifix surmounts a standard. The Latin inscription on the mandorla and scroll beneath are from the Agnus Dei liturgy of the Eucharist.
Beneath a false lintel, two lions with scrolls emerging from their tails and jaws echo the twelve leafy scrolls surrounding the tympanum, symbolic of Christ as the Vine.
Tauriac-Lamb-1-WPThese clear Eucharistic references should not preclude wider signification, particularly with reference to other similar facades and not ignoring the location on the western end of the church.
The Lamb of Tauriac performs a similar function to the Samson at Parthenay, which is to symbolise Christ’s victory over Death.
In both cases, the emplacement of secular horseman indicates the military aspect of the Christian church during the Crusading era.
Biblio: Guyenne Romane, P Dubourg-Noves, Vol. 31 1969 La Nuit des Temps, Zodiaque

 

Roncevaux stood at a pivotal point on the pilgrimage road to Compostela both in spatial and also sacred terms. The story of the great battle which was fought there was told and retold.

Roncevalles-19

Located adjacent to the highest mountain in the Pyrenees as it was then believed, it was the first significant point on the Spanish side of the mountains. The mountains had marked the frontier between Christendom and Islam which in the early middle ages, carried the weight of momentous Apocalyptic import.

When the Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi stated that Ephesus was on the right hand of Christ’s earthly kingdom and Compostela on the left, it was Roncevaux and Roland’s sacrifice which had made pilgrimage there possible. It was the Vale of Thorns, the site of the necessary sacrifice.

According to the History of Charlemagne and Roland, the story begins when the Franks having succesfully conquered Moorish Spain, stop at Pamplona en route to their homeland.

Roncevaux-22-WPThe nearby city of Saragossa was ruled by two Saracen kings, Marsilius and Beligrand, nominally Charlemagne’s subjects, their loyalty is feigned.

The Frankish count, Ganelon acting as Charlemagne’s emissary presents an ultimatum to the two rulers: convert to Christianity or pay tribute. Ganelon then hatches a treacherous plot. Between them, they arrange that Marsilius will pretend to agree to rejoin Charlemagne in France in order to be baptised but he will betray his promise and attack the Frankish rearguard after the main body of the army has gone on ahead.

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Ganelon persuades Charlemagne to leave Roland and his close companion Olivier in charge of the rearguard where they will be prey to the planned Saracen ambush.

Dividing their force in two, the Saracens attack first with twenty thousand men. Battle rages all night before the Franks have defeated their enemy. Exhausted, the Christian warriors cannot withstand a second onslaught of thirty thousand Saracens which now comes down on them.

Olivier is flayed alive and only a small handful of Franks remain standing. Among them, Roland who captures a Saracen and forces him to identify Marsilius who he then kills.

Beligrand and the other Saracens now retreat.

Walking to the foot of the Cize Pass, Roland tries to smash his sword Durendal against a boulder in order to prevent the mighty weapon falling into the hands of the enemy. The sword is too strong and cannot be broken and only the rock is split apart.

Roncevaux-11-WP

Now in an attempt to recall Charlemagne and the body of the Frankish army, Roland sounds his horn, the elephant ivory Olifant but the ferocity with which he blows the trumpet forces it to split in half and for the veins and nerves in his head to burst leaving him mortally wounded.

Hearing the sound of the Olifant in the valley below, Charlemagne is prevented from going to his aid by further treachery from Ganelon who insists that Roland is merely out hunting.

Dying, Roland prays and confesses before his soul is carried by angels to heaven.

Chartres-Roland-horn-WP

Knowledge of Roland’s plight finally reaches the Emperor when Baudoin arrives with the news. Charlemagne immediately sets out for Roncevaux but arrives too late.

Grief stricken, the Emperor now takes his revenge and takes off in pursuit of the Saracens. The sun stands still for three days until the Franks reach the remaining Saracens, destroying them on the banks of the Ebro river near Saragossa.

When rumours of Ganelon’s treachery are heard a duel is arranged in order to ascertain his guilt. Theoderic acting as Charlemagne’s champion kills Pinabel who stands in for Ganelon, who is now quartered and dragged to his death by horses.

The Franks now take their fallen comrades back to France to bury them in sacred sites.

Conques-Angel-Trumpet

The account of the battle of Roncevaux forms one chapter, albeit a vital one in Turpin’s History. The Song of Roland devotes its whole narrative to the legend, rendering its Apocalyptic dimension with greater emphasis.

This is most evident in the episode of the Olifant.

Despite Olivier’s pleas, Roland refuses to blow his horn to summon Charlemagne to his aid until it is too late.

When he does, it can be heard thirty leagues away but now it is merely to recall Charlemagne so that their bodies will be buried according to Christian rite and that the Franks will avenge the deaths of the warriors of the rearguard.

Platerias-Angel-Trumpeter

From the Old Testament Book of Exodus, when it was the prelude to Moses’ vision of God on Mount Sinai up to Revelation, when the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse unleash retribution on those who have failed to heed the Word of God, the trumpet was associated with the voice of God.

When Roland sounds his trumpet it is to unleash the retribution of Charlemagne on the Saracens. The force of his trumpet call causes his blood vessels to burst. It has become an act of submission on the part of the Frankish hero to the Divine power and so the cause of his death and martyrdom

Moissac-Hornblower001

In the final battle against the forces of Baligant, the Olifant is carried as a standard at the head of Charlemagne’s Christian army.

On the crenellations of the fortified belltower of the abbey of Moissac, above the great tympanum of the Apocalypse, a stone carved representation of a lone warrior stands facing the Pyrenees. He is sounding an elephant ivory horn.

Biblio: SG Nichols Romanesque Signs Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography Stephen G Nichols Jr 1983 Yale University. History of Charles the Great and Orlando Ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, Thomas Rodd, 1812. The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, Kevin R. Poole, Italica Press New York 2014.  Les Crenellages du Clocher-Porche de Moissac et leur restauration par Viollet-le-Duc, M Durliat 1966 Annales du Midi 78 pp 433-447

Platerias-Santiago-2The iconographic programme of the three great portal reliefs at Compostela were intended as a combined expression of the full significance of the Apostolic shrine situated on the edge of the world.

The reason for this was engraved above the western entrance in a massive sculpted relief of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The Jacobus describes the emplacement there of the large scale depiction of the theophanic vision described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

According to the early Church Father John Chrysostom, the three disciples present at the Transfiguration, Peter, John and James were chosen because they were superior to the others. James, specifically because he had accepted the challenge of martyrdom.

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The Expulsion from Paradise of the north transept portal and the scenes of Christ’s Temptation and Passion over the Puerta de las Platerias would be completed by the great scene of the Transfiguration above the western entrance, covering the whole of Christian eschatological history.

The Transfiguration, rather than being simply an episode from the life of Christ would be a theophanic vision which was a prefiguration and typological equivalent of the Apocalypse, in keeping with its siting at the western end of the cathedral.

In Romanesque symbolism it was the west that was associated with Death and Resurrection and the use of the Transfiguration in this setting would have been eminently significant, placing the Apostle, whose shrine was located there, at the epicentre of an Apocalyptic image.

The north and south transept portal reliefs were preludes to the ultimate meaning of the shrine at Compostela: the presence of the relics of a saint whose intercessory power was second to none in its potential to restore man from the fatal consequences of the Fall.

The fifth book of the Jacobus, the Pilgrim’s Guide, gives us an extensive description of the cathedral at Compostela at the time of its composition. The author confirms that on the western façade, “We should notice on the top, the Transfiguration of the Lord as it occurred on the Tabor Mountain, and which is sculpted in marvellous workmanship”.

In the last quarter of the twelfth century, however, the west entrance to the cathedral was completed with a different programme, the Portico de la Gloria.

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It has been suggested that the west façade as described in the Guide was merely planned. This is an interpretation which is reinforced by the extremely scant description and absence of detail provided by the author concerning the front of the pilgrimage church.

Those completed reliefs intended for the Transfiguration were relocated to the south transept portal, even prior to the writing of the Guide. Most striking of these is a marble relief of Saint James and the surrounding inscription “Hic in monte Ihesum miratur glorificatum”, backs up the notion that it was intended for the western end programme.

Elsewhere on the frontispiece of the Platerias Portal and carved in the same marble and style as the relief of the apostle is an image of diminutive figure emerging from an enclosed space. Rather strikingly he bears a pair of horns on his head, leading to speculation that he was intended to represent some satanic or demonic force.

Platerias-Moses-1-WP-In the context of a possible Transfiguration scene this figure would more likely represent Moses who was present at the vision on mount Tabor standing beside Christ with the prophet Elijah.

Moses was commonly depicted as horned, an attribute which arose from Jerome’s Vulgate version of the Bible, which had taken the Hebrew text to imply horns emanating from his head rather than rays of light.

Also in the same marble and sculptural style, another relief from the presumed Transfiguration scene is to be found on the Platerias frontispiece: Abraham rising from his tomb with the inscription “Transfiguratio Ihesu surgit Abraham de tumuli”.

From these remnants, it is evident that the proposed Transfiguration scene was to have been very different from the traditional iconography seen in the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna and Sinai and other sites.

That formula had been used at La Charité-sur-Loire where Christ in a mandorla is flanked by Moses and Elias, The Law and the Prophets with the three apostles crouched at the sides.

The figure of James at the Puerta de las Platerias is upright with Gospel in hand, an image of the Evangeliser of Spain fulfilling his Apostolic Mission.

Platerias-Abraham-1-WPThe presence of Abraham locates the Transfiguration among the whole body of Biblical theophanic visions, essentially treating them as one. Abraham’s vision on the plains of Mamre in Genesis is linked to Jesus in John’s gospel.

Furthermore, by presenting the image of Abraham’s resurrection, as well as Moses’, this Transfiguration scene has been relocated to the Second Coming.

As the liturgical sermon attributed to Pope Calixtus II in the Jacobus puts it of James’ vision, it was “The Resurrection that you saw symbolically on Mount Tabor”.

 Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997 Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000 The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009 The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992 Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010. Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003 The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.